Mar 30

“Krisha”: A Family-Affair Addiction Story

If Krisha’s about more than just putting its audience through one woman’s crucible of atonement, it may be about the limits of forgiveness. How many second chances does a loved one get, especially when they refuse to either change or explain their behavior? Because we share her perspective, it’s easy to feel sympathy for Krisha, fighting for the affection and respect of a family she bailed on. But that doesn’t mean we have to ultimately cave to her emotional appeals. That might be the movie’s most powerful achievement: It literally puts us on its protagonist’s side, then dares us not to abandon it for the other one. A.A. Dowd, AV Club

Indie film Krisha is a family affair in more than one way. First, of course, there’s the (somewhat fictional) family whose story it tells. Key words from various review headlines signal what lies in wait: black sheep, recovering alcoholic, dysfunctional clan, grueling reunion, emotional horror show of a family, not your ordinary family-holiday psychodrama.

Second, many of the cast are in fact family. Title character Krisha, in her 60’s, is played by the now highly lauded non-actor Krisha Fairchild, the aunt of the film’s writer/director Trey Edward ShultsAlso featured in key roles are Trey’s mother (Robyn Fairchild) as his aunt, Trey as himself, and his grandmother (Billie Fairchild).

A couple other interesting facts: Krisha’s character is based on actual kin (though presumably not anyone who’s in the film), and both Trey’s mom and dad happen to be therapists in real life. But as Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune, reassures, “…(T)his is more than a writer-director’s therapy session in the guise of a narrative.”

The setting is Robyn’s home in Austin, TX, at Thanksgiving. Sheri Linden, Hollywood Reporter: “Within the bustling home…relationships gradually come into focus. Key among them for Krisha is her strained connection with her son. Well played by the director, Trey is adamantly closed off to her, especially when she tries to bridge the gap.”

Tricia Olszewski, The Wrap:

…(H)er extended family is huge, including a few 20-something guys, two brothers-in-law, an infant, and her Alzheimer’s-afflicted [for real] mom…

Despite telling herself to ‘chill,’ Krisha, a clearly deeply wounded woman who claims to be a former alcoholic, becomes increasingly anxious and returns to her guest bathroom frequently to pop pills and eventually chug some wine. ‘She’s a little jumpy,’ someone explains. ‘She lives by herself.’

Alan Scherstuhl, Village Voice: “You know, watching, that Krisha — nerve-racked, heavily medicated, aware she’s on eggshells — will eventually be at the center of a disaster…And you know that when it all goes down it’s going to hurt.”

On Krisha Succeeding As a Family Drama and Not Being a “Therapy Session”

Sheri Linden, Hollywood Reporter: “…Shults never indulges in therapy-speak; whether angry, sorrowful, deceitful or confessional, each word is alive, not designed to deliver a message.”

Justin Chang, Variety: “Remarkably…the film sustains its intense commitment to emotional and psychological realism even as everything goes to hell.”

A.A. Dowd, AV Club: “Such aversion to easy psychoanalysis is one way that the film avoids becoming a generic recovery drama, even after an element of addiction is introduced. Intangible cast chemistry is another.”

The trailer’s below:

Nov 21

Mike Nichols: A Classic Sketch from Way Back When

 “Hello Arthur? This is your mother. Do you remember me?” Mike Nichols and Elaine May, “Mother and Son”

Mike Nichols (1931-2014) passed away this week. (For his New York Times obituary, click on the link.) Although known for an amazing list of accomplishments in the world of entertainment, it’s his earliest work with comedy partner Elaine May that initially made him famous. They performed together from 1957 to 1962, including on Broadway.

One of the best and most classic sketches from their Broadway show is called “Mother and Son,” a bit that’s also on their album, “An Evening with Mike Nichols and Elaine May.” Lindsey Planer (All Music) describes it: “The poignant ‘Mother and Son’ pits an aerospace engineer named Arthur against his overbearing, nagging, and nervous mother. The guilt that Arthur feels in failing to call his mother on a regular basis turns into a psychological examination as the pair revert back to a relationship they had when Arthur was emotionally dependent on the happiness of his mother.”

Her “nerves” are indeed a problem. She may have to be hospitalized, she laments to her son—they’ll probably need to take some X-rays of them.

Kyle Stevens wrote an article in Critical Quarterly (reprinted on Academia) that provides a more detailed analysis of “Mother and Son”: “Nichols plays a man phoning home to his mother (denoted Jewish by her accent and grammatical inversions). The son, a busy scientist at NASA, cannot offer a satisfactory excuse as to why he has not called earlier. After much back-and-forth, the mother laments: ‘I sat by the phone all day Friday, all day Saturday, and all day Sunday. Your father said to me, ‘Phyllis, eat something. You’ll faint.’ I said, ‘No,Harry. No. I don’t want my mouth to be full when my son calls me.'”

Of course, the son feels the need eventually to apologize. “(B)ut the mother responds: ‘Someday,someday, Arthur, you’ll get married, and you’ll have children of your own, and, honey, when you do, I only pray that they make you suffer. That’s a mother’s prayer.’ Repeating how awful he feels, she says, ‘Oh,honey, if I could believe that, I’d be the happiest mother in the world.’”

Enjoy—I think you’ll agree this old black-and-white is still as relevant and funny today.